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SETI Institute in the News May 17-23, 2018

SETI Institute in the News May 17-23, 2018

Allen Telescope Array
Signal Pollution: the Challenges of SETI

Andrew Siemion, Bernard M. Oliver Chair of SETI Research at the SETI Institute and UC Berkeley SETI Research Center director, appeared on Seeker to discuss the challenges of technosignature detection in a noisy universe. SyFy Wire noted that while cosmic phenomena cause a great deal of interference, the main hurdles are local:

"By far the biggest challenge in radio SETI is what we call radio frequency interference,” UC Berkeley SETI Research Center director Andrew Siemion told Seeker. “Because we use our own technology as an example of what we should be looking for, we in fact find many, many examples of our own technology, and those examples actually pollute the signal that we see, especially with radio telescopes.”

The SETI Institute has continued to seek innovative ways to improve signal detection, including the ambitious Laser SETI project. You can find out more on our website,

water worldsWater Worlds of the Solar System

A recent study of archived data from NASA’s Galileo revealed evidence indicating Europa – a moon of Jupiter, which researchers have suspected of containing an ocean world beneath its icy surface – has been venting liquid water into space. This opens up exciting possibilities for study, particularly in the field of astrobiology. Aeon spoke with Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute, about the solar system’s surprising abundance of liquid water, a molecule essential to life as we know it:

‘Nobody expected that there were subsurface oceans,’ says Seth Shostak, an astronomer with the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. ‘It extends our concept of habitability and where you might find life to worlds that we hadn’t considered before. We always assumed that it had to be on a planet. I reckon there are seven other places in our solar system where we have reason to think there might be life – at least the conditions for life. Seven! And most of them are moons!’

The Galileo spacecraft did a flyby of Europa in 1997, but after the Hubble Space Telescope found signs of water vapor, that researchers began to try to find corroborating evidence. SETI Institute scientist Melissa McGrath helped confirm possible locations of the plumes, prompting other researchers to revisit the data according to HowStuffWorks:

During a presentation about the possible detections of Europa water plumes, Xianzhe Jia — who works at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and is co-investigator for two instruments that will fly on the Europa Clipper — was inspired. The presentation was by Melissa McGrath of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, and a member of the Europa Clipper team. McGrath was describing the locations of the possible water plumes as observed by Hubble.

Later analysis by Jia revealed the detection of changes in the magnetic field, consistent with similar data indicating water plumes on Enceladus found during NASA’s Cassini mission caused by the ionized water vapor venting into space. Scientists in the SETI field are especially excited by this revelation, as watery worlds hold the promise of discovering some form of extraterrestrial life. Nonetheless, Seth Shostak doesn’t expect it’s time to break out the fishing rods just yet, according to Aeon:

‘You might have bacterial life in these subsurface oceans but the energy sources to support much more complex organisms that require more food might be a stretch,’ says Shostak, the SETI astronomer. ‘It’s not to say it couldn’t happen – they’ve [the moons] been there for 4.5 billion years, so maybe there are some multicellular things but I doubt you have things like tuna!’

detailDwelling in the Universe: Nathalie Cabrol at Espace pur la vie

Espace pur la vie, a site featuring several institutions forming Canada’s largest natural science museum complex, will be hosting a series of events on the theme, “Human and Nature Encounters”, according to Canada NewsWire. The program aims to provoke deeper thought and opportunities for experiences in the relationship between humans and nature, and will feature a number of events and conferences. Nathalie Cabrol, Director of the Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute and noted astrobiologist, will appear in December alongside Marie-Hélène Parizeau, Chair of World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) and professor at Laval University. The two will discuss life in the universe and the questions that arise in the quest to find it. 
(Please note: these activities will be in French)

nathalieBetween Earth and Mars: Nathalie Cabrol on la Repubblica

Nathalie Cabrol, Director of the Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute, appeared on the cover of the Italian publication la Repubblica. Our readers who understand Italian will enjoy this piece, featuring the stunning photography of Andrea Frazzetta. The article presents a striking portrait of the otherworldly beauty of the high Andes – an area of interest to astrobiologists like Cabrol because of its similarity to the early Martian environment – as well as the passion for discovery that drives Cabrol’s adventurous career:

“I'm the kind of person who likes to touch things. I cannot stand behind a desk. I prefer to immerse myself in a lake at 6 thousand meters of altitude or climb a volcano.”

(Please note: the above is a translation. The article is written entirely in Italian.)
English-speaking readers may want to check out a feature recently published in NY Times Magazine, also featuring Frazzetta’s photography, that profiled Cabrol and her expeditions in search of surprising life forms surviving in the most remote reaches and extreme conditions of Earth. Following the publication, Bill Diamond, CEO of the SETI Institute, had these remarks:

“Helen McDonald’s article in [the March 18, 2018] NY Times Magazine puts you squarely in the middle of the Atacama desert and the Altiplano of Chile – an analog site on Earth that informs us of conditions on Mars over 3 billion years ago. You can taste the salt in the dusty air and feel the crunch of crystalline gypsum giving way under foot as our NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) research team looks for primitive lifeforms in this vast, barren, yet spectacular landscape. The article is also a moving portrait of Dr. Nathalie Cabrol, NAI team leader and the head of research at the Carl Sagan Center here at the Institute.  Reading Helen’s article, you’ll travel to early Mars, while also gaining insight into the passion and spirit of exploration that drives scientists like Nathalie.”

You can find out more about Nathalie Cabrol’s work on our website,

VRBig Picture Science

Last week’s episode explored the impact of the microorganisms that call YOU home, in You Are Exposed. This week’s episode featured an encore of Your Brain’s Reins, looking at technology addiction, neuroscience in the courtroom, and the power of the unconscious. 

Facebook Live

Facebook Live recently featured Dr. Alan Stern, principle investigator of the New Horizons mission to Pluto, and astrobiologist Dr. David Grinspoon discussing the New Horizons mission and their new book, Chasing New Horizons, with SETI Institute senior research scientist, Franck Marchis. Last week, CEO Bill Diamond sat down with SETI Institute scientist J.R. Skok to talk about J.R.’s project, AstroReality, which uses AR and AI to create interactive models of the Earth and Moon.

Videos of all past Facebook Live events can be found on our Facebook page:

  • SkeptiCal Con: June 10, Berkeley, CA Seth Shostak to speak
  • The Drake Award: June 14, Menlo Park, CA Victoria S. Meadows will be presented with the SETI Institute’s Drake Award and speak about her work.
  • Alien Con 2018: June 15-17, Pasadena, CA Seth Shostak to speak
  • Astrobiology Australasia Conference 2018: June 25-26, Rotorua, New Zealand Seth Shostak to speak
  • Spacefest IX: July 5-8, Tucson, AZ Seth Shostak will be a featured speaker
  • COSPAR 2018: July 14-22, Pasadena, CA Seth Shostak to present “Red Dwarf Star Survey with the ATA”
  • International Astronomical Union (IAU): August 21-27, Vienna Austria Franck Marchis will present sessions on adaptive optics and the Unistellar eVscope
  • Houston Astronomical Society: September 7, Houston, TX Franck Marchis is invited to speak

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